Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Violent Offending: Personality as a Contributing Factor

Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Violent Offending: Personality as a Contributing Factor

Article excerpt

Introduction

Numerous studies have identified alcohol consumption as a risk factor for violent offending. McMurran and Cusens [1] found that nearly three-quarters of 126 British prisoners convicted for violent offences reported they were drunk at the time. Studies in Australia suggest that 23-73% of all assaults are committed when the attacker is drunk [2,3]. A large-scale national study in that country found that in 2007, half of all offenders detained by police for disorder and violent offences had consumed alcohol in the 48 hours prior to arrest [4]. In the US, 35% of victims of violent attacks who were able to assess whether their attacker had been using alcohol, believed the offender had been drinking at the time of the attack. Half of victims of interpersonal violence in England and Wales reported the perpetrator to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of assault [5].

Several models have been offered to explain the well-documented relationship between alcohol and violence, with most models proposing a direct link. Some of these "direct link" models include the psychopharmacological effects of alcohol as potential mediators of violent offences, such as impairment of cognitive processes that affect judgment, behavior inhibition and interpersonal communication [6]. In contrast to these widely accepted direct link models, "common cause" models propose that alcohol consumption and violent offending are related indirectly via risk factors that they have in common [7, 8]. These shared risk factors include some dimensions of personality, with psychoticism (P), extraversion (E), and neuroticism (N) invoked most often. These three dimensions are included in Eysencks' theory of personality [9], which provides a useful scheme for exploring personality antecedents of divergent antisocial behavior. In Eysencks' theory, P is anchored at one end by aggressiveness and divergent thinking and at the other end by empathy and caution. This trait is so named because individuals with a high P level are significantly more vulnerable to psychotic disorders than those with a low P level. E is represented on a bipolar scale anchored at one end by sociability and stimulation-seeking, and at the other end by social reticence and stimulation avoidance. N is anchored at one end by emotional instability and spontaneity, and at the other end by reflection and deliberateness. This trait is so named because individuals with a high N level are more vulnerable to anxiety-based problems.

Individuals with a high P level are predisposed to developing antisocial behavior [9], and those with high levels of both P and E are predisposed to developing antisocial behavior involving aggression. If such an individual also has a high N level, their behavior may exhibit emotional, irrational characteristics under some circumstances [10]. Higher P levels are strongly related to alcohol consumption [11], and several studies have shown a link between higher E levels and alcohol consumption in non-alcoholics and alcoholics alike [12-14]. N appears to correlate positively with alcohol consumption specifically among those with clinically significant alcohol problems [15-17]. Individuals who consume alcohol heavily may develop high levels of N and anxiety to buffer the negative affect associated with alcohol dependence [18].

Numerous studies in Anglo-Saxon countries showed that personality dimensions contribute to the explanation of alcohol consumption and violent offending. However, most of these studies explored these relationships separately, that is, only few of them explored relationship between all three variables at the same time. In addition, there is a knowledge gap in the literature regarding some postulates of common cause model that explains relationship between alcohol consumption and violent offending. Common cause model clearly states that personality is a risk factor for both alcohol consumption and violent offending. In this line, it seems reasonable to assume that alcohol consumption mediates the association between personality and violent offending. …

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